Eighteen affordable flats on the site of St Nicholas Church, Buxton Road, Weymouth have been approved unanimously – with apologies to neighbours.

Several councillors said they had been torn between the need for the flats and local concerns about the effect the large building would have on the conservation area.

There was also worries about parking for 18 cars, traffic safety and overlooking of neighbouring homes.

Despite concerns about the flats being sold on, at a profit or for second homes, the committee heard that they would remain affordable homes to rent, tied down by a legal agreement.

The existing entrance will be moved as part of the scheme to improve safety between a pedestrian crossing and bus stop.

Several councillors said they had found it hard to balance the need for affordable homes and to protect the conservation area.

Cllr Kate Wheller was among those who were apologetic to residents as she prepared to vote in favour:  “I’m delighted it’s affordable housing – it’s exactly what we need…I know residents will be upset, but it’s a good use of the land,” she said.

Cllr Clare Sutton said she understood the concerns of the residents and agreed the building would look better as two storey, but said it was also important to provide affordable homes and would support the proposal.

Cllr Brian Heatley said he too understood the concerns of residents but said he believe a ‘real effort’ had been made to make the building sympathetic to the area.

“The need for small units like this, particularly for rent, is especially acute in Weymouth and this will make a real contribution to the 100 needed in the area each year…in the end the needs of people who are desperately in need of this type of housing, to my mind, outweighs the important desire of residents to protect the look, feel and amenity of their area. I’m sorry about that, I represent them, but you have to weigh these things in the balance. You simply don’t get opportunities for affordable housing like this very often,” he said.

Residents and the town’s Civic Society had written to object to the proposals although Weymouth Town Council did not object after a vote which saw almost half of its planning committee abstain.

Said Weymouth Civic Society: “The design would in our view be harmful to the character and appearance of the local setting in this part of the Connaught Road Conservation Area, and out of keeping with the architecture of the fine Victorian villas which characterise the area.”

But the committee heard that the developers had altered the design in an attempt to make it fit in with the nearby villas and had also moved the building to maintain the views of a property behind. Obscure glazing would also be used of windows overlooking next door homes.

The decision allows for the demolition of the church building, which has not been used for more than a year, replacing it with ‘affordable’ two-bed flats in a four-storey block. It was submitted to Dorset Council by Bournemouth-based Hector Benjamin Ltd.